European Architecture Since 1890
Is it possible to speak of a distinctively European style of architecture? Most architectural historians tend to limit themselves to the western part of the continent, but Hans Ibelings, in his comprehensive and richly illustrated European Architecture Since 1890, looks to the east as well. The many unknown buildings and architects he has discovered on the periphery of the former Soviet Union support his claim that pan-European developments can be identified from the late nineteenth century onwards.
Ibelings is primarily interested in architecture’s social function, so he concentrates on aspects of European society and politics that have influenced it over the years. He believes that the explosive growth of cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution marks the beginning of modern architecture, whose main feature is its public character. Once governments took over from the church and the aristocracy as architects’ most important clients, the most prestigious and profitable commissions were for publicly financed facilities such as housing, schools, railway stations, town halls and libraries.
From art nouveau to constructivism, twentieth-century European architecture was to a great degree united by its own particular styles. Ibelings wonders how this was possible in a politically divided continent, since a Europe-wide exchange of ideas must have been involved. He believes that the explanation lies in the evolution of the architect from artisan to autonomous artist with international contacts. The rise of dictatorial regimes between the two world wars and their emphasis on national traditions did not result in any dramatic break in development. Despite ideological differences, public works across Europe were intended to serve an ideal society and their design was rarely at odds with the functional approach of modernism. Socialist realism with its neoclassical elements, which set the tone all across the Eastern Bloc after 1945, caused a fundamental parting of ways in European architecture for the first time since the nineteenth century, but after Stalin died in 1953 that diktat was quickly laid aside, making way for rational and functional buildings.
Ibelings’ book can be read as a modern European history of ideas, taking the reader on a fascinating journey through the cities of a continent that was seemingly united in its architecture even at times of profound historical division.
- By taking a thematic rather than the usual stylistic approach, Ibelings presents a fresh perspective on modern European architecture.
- Its wealth of illustrations, mainly of unfamiliar buildings, makes the book both visually attractive and stimulating.